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Marie Claude-Delahaye, Owner & Curator of the French Absinthe Museum
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Absinthe's Renaissance PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 30 July 2008 15:20

In early 1998 George Rowley, now brand owner of La Fée, the world’s most recognizable absinthe brand, discovered absinthe whilst living in the Czech Republic. At the time, absinthe was a near forgotten relic and was only available in a few Bohemian bars.

Inspired by his experience, George Rowley and his company Bohemia Beer House Ltd (now BBH Spirits) took on the task of setting the legal precedent for absinthe, opening the international absinthe market today.

After soon discovering the United Kingdom never imposed a ban on absinthe, working alongside Trading Standards, George Rowley was able to secure, off the back of a document called EU Council Directive 88/388/EEC, permission to import.

Creating this watershed document has set the legal precedent for all future absinthe in Europe and the international market which now includes America.

George Rowley held his UK launch at the Groucho Club, in Soho, London in November 1998, the product being a modern Czech absinth (absinthe spelt without the ‘e’), and introducing to the market the now popular modern ‘sugar and burn’ ritual.

In 1999 the campaign to source a genuine pre-ban absinthe and restart distilling in France began, and on 26th May 1999 George Rowley wrote to Marie-Claude Delahaye, world-renowned expert and historian on the category explaining the project:

Following our visit to your museum earlier this year I took full note of your comments you made on the subject of French Absinthe. Unfortunately as we all know it is illegal under French law to produce any form of Absinthe at present. To start this delicate process of trying to reverse this situation I am in the process of forming a new company that is to be Anglo-French with global marketing aspirations for Absinthe. The sole objective of this company is to produce the most authentic French Absinthe

Whilst unpicking the terms of the 1915 French ban, it was discovered that the French had prohibited the selling of absinthe in France, but not the distillation of it. This would signal the rebirth of traditional French absinthe, distilled with Grand Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). All this pioneering work was carried out by George and Marie-Claude at our Paris distillery, leading up to the introduction of the first traditionally distilled absinthe in France, La Fée Absinthe Parisienne to the market, which is distilled by a Paris based.

La Fée Absinthe Parisienne is a traditional full-strength French spirit based on an original 19th century recipe and still to this day is the only absinthe authenticated by Marie-Claude Delahaye, world-renowned founder of La Musée de l’absinthe, Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

After a years investigation, research and development, the very first order of La Fée Absinthe Parisienne was placed on 1st May 2000. Our iconic eye motif would make La Fée the benchmark brand within the surging absinthe category.

Marie-Claude Delayahe & George Rowley on their way to the Launch of La Fée, 2000

La Fée is the first Traditional French Absinthe to be commercially distilled in France since the ban of 1915
Marie-Claude Delahaye

To this day each distillation of La Fée Absinthe Parisienne is tested by Madame Delahaye, each batch having a sample being delivered to her by courier for her approval prior to bottling.

As well as the birth of La Fée Absinthe Parisienne, 2000 saw the creation of the absinthe bus, which has seen the likes of The Black Eyed Peas, Roger Sanchez, MTV and Judge Jules to name but a few!

MTV filming atop the Absinthe Bus with Roger Sanchez

Following the re-birth of the absinthe category was the direct involvement in lifting the ban placed upon Italy in 1932.

Australia too had a ban in place and special permission is still needed to this day to import La Fée. Both Australia and New Zealand share a great deal of common ground on trading standards, and the decision was taken by both to harmonise their trading standards legislation with that of Europe. Overnight they adopted European permitted levels of thujone, thereby unlocking two more distant territories.

In March 2003 La Fée went on sale in France by re-labelling from 'La Fée Absinthe' to 'La Fée Aux Plantes d’Absinthe' (same distilled product, but a different legal technical name).

Also in 2003, La Fée teamed up with celebrated French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli to create a series of absinthe seasonal and celebration menu’s for the 21st century – making Jean-Christophe the first Michelin-starred chef ever to cook with absinthe!

George Rowley & Jean-Christophe Novelli

Also at this time, George Rowley began the process to develop a new product – La Fée Absinth Bohemian – a product on the opposite spectrum to that of La Fée Absinthe Parisienne. Whilst La Fée Absinthe Parisienne is traditional, Bohemian falls into the modern category of 'absinth', specifically designed for modern day cocktails, with influence from the rebellious underground of the Czech Republic. On 1st October 2004, the first order of La Fée Absinth Bohemian was submitted, and was soon after released to the international market.

In 2004 George Rowley and Marie-Claude Delahaye were invited to hold an absinthe seminar at Slow Food, Turin in Italy. This highlighted the influence and experience they have in the absinthe category. Many education seminars have since followed, including Sydney, London and New York.

Marie-Claude Delayahe & George Rowley at Slow Food, Italy

The Next Level of Absinthe

In July 2005 La Fée started their newest project – taking absinthe to the next level. George Rowley chose, by reputation the two best distillers from the Val de Travers region in Couvet, Switzerland (the birthplace of absinthe) and Pontarlier, France (where absinthe was first commercially produced in large volume) to create the La Fée X•S (Extra Superieure) range.

The idea was a wine-based absinthe distilled as an amer allowing, under the rules, a higher level of wormwood pushing the envelope of the category to the next level. At this time, neither location was doing this.

La Fée XS Suisse and La Fée XS Française were launched a year-and-a-half later in tandem in 2006, beginning of 2007, both products making their way into the super-premium sector of the spirits market.

La Fée Absinthe X•S FrançaiseLa Fée Absinthe X•S Suisse

Both products were entered for the Absinthiades awards in Pontarlier last year (2007) – reputed to be the toughest in the world for our industry – absinthe.La Fée XS Suisse received best in class for Swiss, as well as best in show for the entire event, with its sister produce La Fée XS Française receiving best in class for French – awards presented by the Mayor of Pontarlier himself! The clean sweep of awards further reaffirmed La Fée’s dominant position at the head of the absinthe renaissance.

The Mayor of Pontarlier presents George Rowley, with the Golden Spoon for La Fée Absinthe X•S Suisse

As well as receiving these prestigious awards at the Absinthiades, La Fée XS Suisse also awarded the New Brand Innovation Trophy, at the International Spirits Challenge 2007, a fantastic recognition for La Fée in not just the Absinthe category, but the spirits category as a whole.

George Rowley recieves the 'New Brand Innovation Award' for La Fée Absinthe X•S Suisse

Breaking into the United States

The end of 2006 saw the USA adopt parts of the same directive as Europe, Australia and New Zealand – meaning absinthe could once again be sold within its borders. The rule stipulates spirits can contain no more than 10 parts per million of thujone, allowing La Fée Absinthe Parisienne into shops, bars and hotels throughout the United States.

An extremely successful year included the La Fée portfolio being awarded its very first American gold medals – the first time having entered a spirit competition in the United States.

In November 2007 La Fée Absinthe Parisienne and La Fée Absinth Bohemian were both awarded gold at the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago.

2008 looks to be another exciting year for George Rowley and the La Fée brand - with La Fée Absinthe Parisienne making its way into the US market. The first shipment arrived 15th of May 2008 and went on sale 1st of June 2008 in New York.

After being awarded its second gold medal in America, this time from the San Francisco Spirits Competition, La Fée Absinthe Parisienne celebrated its arrival at its official launch party on 23rd June 2008 in SoHo – but this time SoHo New York!

George Rowley and Marie-Claude Delahaye hosted the event at the Openhouse gallery which was a huge success.


Part 1: The People who Pioneered Absinthe's Renaissance

Part 2: The Formative Years ...

Part 3: Discovering the truth...  and doing something about it ...

Part 4: Finding the right  People... Team La Fée

Part 5: The Industry takes note ... the Fifth and Final Chapter

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 May 2017 10:43